Saturday, January 19, 2013

The So-manieth Time I Used That Word

There are almost 989,000 words in Webster’s dictionary. My current novel is approximately 72,000 words long. If I used every word in the language equally, I could write almost fourteen similarly lengthed books before I had to repeat a word. Yet in my current work, I used the word just 300 times. I used the word just more than I used the word said (only 271 times). I used the word pulled almost 100 times. (I didn’t use the word lengthed ever because Word says it’s not a word, yet I’ve used it twice already in this blog because I’m a crazy word-nut). I was just thinking that if I just used the word just just a few fewer times, my plot would stay just the same but my writing would be just that little bit better—that little bit that might just win me over a few more readers. Seriously. And why does my character have to pull a gun or a knife out and pull out his wallet and pull his motorcycle off the highway and pull into the driveway and pull an arrow from a quiver and pull a picture from his pocket and pull on a rope and pull a weapon back for a second swing and pull on a chain and pull the Staff of Moses from a rock? There are other words than just and pull. Webster has a stockpile of almost a million words from which to choose. Word has a handy-dandy thesaurus. (Handy-dandy isn’t in it, but it should be). There is a “Find” feature on Word also, which can be used to remind us that we’re using a word too much. And there is also such a thing as a pronoun to use as a replacement word. I used the word stop 58 times. I should stop using it so much. I should try a synonym.

I used is 318 times—and I wrote the book in the past tense. Plus, there’s no action in is. I used was 974 times. One out of every 74 words was was. There is no action in was either, yet my novel is an action/adventure. It’s full of action!! Just think how much more action there could have been if I would have stopped for a minute and pulled out my repertoire of action verbs. Numerous times I used the same word more than once in the same sentence. “He just pulled to a stop and pulled out his cell-phone just as the ring tone stopped.” (That icky sentence wasn’t in my current work in progress—I should never be taken too seriously). How about saying this? “He skidded into a parking space and yanked his cell phone from his pocket as the ring tone concluded.” Or how about…“He eased his motorcycle to a rest along the side of the road but was unable to slip out his cell phone before its tone terminated”?  Or how about…“The vehicle crashed and rolled down the expressway, air bags deploying, window glass shattering, seat and steering wheel pinning his body as his cell phone’s blaring ring tone ceased its musical notification”?

And let me ask this. Why do we as writers feel that when we finally get that rough draft done that our book needs to be published before the next full moon? Shouldn’t we take more pride in our work? Shouldn’t we let people read it who aren’t afraid to offend us or tell us the truth or give us suggestions? Shouldn’t we be willing to go through it all and make plot adjustments, add better clues, make a better ending, word our sentences better, and stop with all the repetition…and stop with all the repetition? I have a “beta reader” who’s a brave lady. She tells me when I need improvement. For the word pulled she wrote—and I quote—“You have a love affair with this word.” For just, she simply put “delete” over and over and over. She typed, “You’re overusing the word some….I should start counting.” I counted them—all 118 of them. One time she noted, “This is the so-manieth time you’ve used this word.” So-manieth isn’t in Webster’s either, but she made her point. (Zombie-like isn’t in the dictionary either, but I fear I’m creating little zombie-like readers if I don’t rush to make a useful point soon).

Anyway, so now that I’m done with a productive round of content editing, I’m sending the manuscript to seven or eight readers with these instructions. “If you have questions, ask them. If you think a thought, write a comment. If you have a suggestion, tell it to me. If you find a mistake, note it. And if you feel the need to compliment me, that’s okay too.” In the meantime, I keep reading it. There’s always room for improvement. I want my book out as badly as the next person, but I want it to be something I’m proud of, not simply something I finished before moving on to the next project. Please read this closely, my fellow writers: The next step after finishing the rough draft is NOT choosing a cover. You see, choosing a great cover will motivate people to pick up the book and give it a try, but what’s inside the covers will motivate people to share, recommend, gift, and talk about your book—and read your next one.

Don’t just write your book and publish it. Take some time to repair it and improve it. Pull out your red pen to do the work of a serious writer. Stop being in such a hurry. You might begin to feel somewhat zombie-like during the revision process, making changes for the so-manieth time, but by using the handy-dandy tools and people at your disposal, you (or I) might actually produce a work of art in which we can be proud.